This is the text of a letter sent via email September 13, 2016 to the Wasco County Planning Commission.
Volunteers Kris McNall and Charles Young, Board member Phil Evans, and advisor Craig Funk contributed to this effort.
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Dear Chair and Commissioners,
This letter is the second public comment on the proposed Union Pacific Second Mainline Track from Mosier Fire District (MFD).
After further study of the proposal and its impacts, I am writing as MFD’s risk management professional, supplementing and amplifying comments made previously from the Board.
Our previous letter raised four categories of concerns:
- Railroad caused Wildfires
- Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) Movement
- Pedestrian Safety and Emergency Access to the North Side of the Tracks
The sum of my comments is that the west segment of the project, from Mosier Creek to the Hood River County line, poses unacceptable risk to MFD in each of these four categories and must be disallowed. The middle and east segments of the project described under Alternative C, Option 2, might be considered if the issues raised in our letter of August 25 are addressed in a transparent and verifiable manner. However, until a plan for mitigating risk is developed and agreed upon by local response agencies, we respectfully request that the commission deny all segments of the UPRR Second Mainline Track Project.
There are two main reasons for my focus on the west segment of the project:
First, the majority of MFD, including City of Mosier, is downwind of the west segment, so issues created by the project as a whole are magnified for this segment. Fire moves downwind, hazmat blows downwind. The west segment increases upwind risk to our school, downtown core, and many more homes than the middle and east segments. (See Mosier Fire District Map, attached; note that purple dots represent built properties, the reason the fire district exists, and that our prevailing wind is typically from the west-northwest.) Second, the west segment runs through the downtown core of Mosier so the proposed double track would directly affect access to the north side of the tracks and increase noise in the city.
In addition, the following operational and safety concerns were not fully explored in the August 25 letter.
Opposing train traffic at operating speeds creates the risk of accidents involving higher kinetic energy and greater potential damage from fire and/or hazardous materials release than if a single train has an accident. Placing that risk upwind of the majority of MFD, including the City of Mosier, and at the bottom of a slope which will accelerate fire behavior (http://www.hoodrivernews.com/news/2012/sep/28/milepost-66-fire-contained/), while cutting off our access via Interstate 84 and the Twin Tunnels Trail, sets the Mosier Fire District up for a disaster far worse than the one we narrowly escaped last June 3 (http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/sep/04/fire-chief-jim-appleton-lesson-of-derailment-ban-o/).
The City of Mosier and the Fire District are interdependent. The Fire District draws both its tax base and its volunteers from the Mosier area. Although technically outside the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission, the safety, vibrancy, and resilience of the City of Mosier must be factored into your decision and I aim to give you a basis to do so. Boundaries assumed by the Scenic Act aren’t relevant when assessing risk or fighting fires. Risk is risk, and the increased risk imposed by a double main line through and to the west of the City of Mosier creates an unmanageable responsibility for the Fire District.
The double main line would impact the City of Mosier with economic damages and permanent harm to a right of quiet enjoyment, in a way that has not happened since Interstate 84 was built sixty years ago, and, indeed, only a handful of times prior going back to the 1840’s. If the core of our community becomes less desirable both for residents and visitors, that negatively affects the fire district’s ability to provide services district-wide, and cannot be allowed to happen. It is a flaw of the planning process that these externalities are not factored at all into the proposal or your decision, and so the emphasis here necessarily focuses on safety, but MFD cannot ignore the consequences of harm to our tax base.
Mosier is deep into a planning process which stands to bolster transportation and development well into the foreseeable future, a new fire station and City civic center being but one example. All of this investment in our future will be put at risk by the added safety concerns, noise and other impacts of a double main line.
In conclusion, I uphold and restate our concerns for the project as a whole, while categorically rejecting the west segment for the reasons stated. In my opinion, it is not possible to mitigate the increased risk of the west segment of the project to render it acceptable. The remaining segments should be evaluated under the considerations raised in MFD’s August 25 letter. Under Alternative C, Option 2, Union Pacific achieves at least 60% of its efficiency goals while saving the cost and remediation requirements of the west segment, without significantly changing the negative impacts of idling trains in the City of Mosier. Moreover, Alternative C, Option 2 results in Union Pacific’s longest passing zone (15,682 feet) between Portland and The Dalles, clearly shifting any concept of “bottleneck” elsewhere.
Jim Appleton, Mosier Fire Chief